Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998)
I saw Hodges' second collaboration with Clive Owen, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, when it came out a couple of years ago, and was underwhelmed. It was cold and slow and no fun at all. This is much better, though, with a dark sense of humor and a slick plot, and probably the best performance I've seen from Owen. Like all good noir, it's about 90% narration, but it's coolly ironic narration, and there are at least two femme fatales. The ending confused me a bit, but otherwise this was a near-perfect thriller.
Infernal Affairs (Andy Lau & Alan Mak, 2002)
It's strange to me that this is being remade by Martin Scorsese, because it's so heavily influenced by American thrillers that a remake seems especially redundant. For all its praise and success (two sequels followed in quick succession), it's a stylish but empty movie, and it seems to me that if it were an American film it wouldn't have gotten so much attention. There is one really taut and suspenseful sequence, with a drug bust played on both sides by the gang mole and the police mole, but otherwise you never get a sense of who these characters are or what they're going through living stressful double lives. As a result, it's hard to care about all the conversions and confrontations at the end. I hope Scorsese will add some depth, but I still see no reason for this movie to be remade at all.
Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
This has got to be the longest, slowest heist movie I have ever seen. I realize it's considered a masterpiece, and I did enjoy the last Melville movie I saw (Bob Le Flambeur), but for long stretches of the film I was honestly bored. The central heist sequence, which doesn't come until 90 minutes into the movie, is impressively orchestrated and almost entirely dialogue-free. But overall I found this minimalist to the point of distraction, and a bit of a disappointment.
Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971)
Maybe this is an odd point of entry for Peckinpah films, since he's known mainly for his Westerns, but it's obviously got a lot in common with that genre, with the lone man required to step up and make a stand against encroaching lawlessness. One of the things I love about Michael Mann movies is the way they so thoroughly explore the idea of masculinity, and Peckinpah's obviously doing the same sort of thing in this film (and, it would appear, in most of his other work as well). At first it seems like Peckinpah has unbridled contempt for Dustin Hoffman's passive-aggressive nebbish of a character, and that only when he gives in to violence and brutality does he live up to the director's idea of manliness. But in the course of becoming a man, Hoffman's David loses everything, and ultimately Peckinpah seems to be equating the natural masculine state with ugliness and even inhumanity. I kind of prefer Mann's more layered appraoch, but damn if that siege sequence wasn't awesomely constructed.